Many years ago, as a school sports organiser, I maintained kits of equipment for sports teams – a bag of mitts, bats, helmets and catcher’s gear for the baseball and softball teams, stumps, bats, helmets and keeper’s gear for the cricket teams, racquets for the tennis and squash groups.
Then something changed – specialist sports equipment became accessible and affordable, and some kids began bringing their own personal sports equipment to school. Once they were involved in representative sport, all participants brought their own mitts and helmets for baseball, wicket keepers brought their own pads and gloves for cricket, tennis players brought their own racquets and hockey players used their own sticks. I found that all I needed to include in my regular sport kit bags were the essential game equipment (bases, stumps, etc) and a few spare gloves and masks.
And students’ personal equipment was generally in much better condition than the equipment in the school kit bag. It fitted the kids better, and they were able to use it to participate in sport outside of school. (Which made their school sport far more relevant.)
The focus of the students in sports activities moved to playing the game and improving their performance, rather than struggling with the gear.
From a sport administrator’s perspective, I was able to focus my efforts (and limited school funds) on providing venue maintenance (bases, stumps, nets, etc) and coaching.
Whether we were using school kit, or students’ own personal equipment, the outcomes were still the same – learning and refining skills, improving personal performances, and co-operating in a team environment. However, by reducing ‘kit maintenance time’ teachers were more able to focus their energy on program outcomes, rather than the nuts and bolts.
Fast-forward to 2013, and I see the same trend happening with school ICT.
With most families now owning multiple internet-connected ‘devices’, do we still need to provide the standard, one-size-fits-all, school kit for students?
Would my budget be better applied to developing and maintaining infrastructure, like robust wireless networks, to support students’ equipment?
Do I really need to spend my time (or employ technicians) to maintain a fileserver on the school network, when similar facilities are available for free on the larger network outside the school? And students and teachers using these non-school technologies can more easily access these services from inside and outside the school, on any device?
Like sports equipment, new and innovative technologies have rapidly become accessible and affordable in the wider community. Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiatives leverage the widespread personal ownership of this equipment by students (and teachers), to support the curriculum.
The forces of budget constraints dictate that school-supplied kit will always be lowest-common-denominator equipment, while student-supplied equipment is often more in tune with modern needs.
Equity issues will exist with students bringing their own technologies, just as they have always done with sports equipment, calculators, coloured markers, exercise books, etc. And as with this other student-owned equipment, schools will stock a kit of ‘spares’ to fill the gaps.
At the same time as new mobile devices have become widely accessible and affordable, a new breed of device-agnostic online software has begun to rival the capabilities of traditional locally-installed software, and has provided a new collaborative dimension ideally suited to the education environment.
What does this all mean for schools? ….. We have an opportunity to move from spending an inordinate amount of time and money on deploying and maintaining what has become the standard technology kit, to re-focussing on learning outcomes. BYOT provides a realistic mechanism for schools to move from being providers of mass-deployed computer equipment, to being the designers of a relevant curriculum that integrates new and innovative technologies that are already in widespread use in the wider community.
Cloud tools, such as Google Drive, WordPress, Evernote, Dropbox, etc, provide a consistent suite of software for students to be able to access their online work on any device, in any location, at any time – at school or home. In the new BYOT model, the role of the school ICT administrator moves from maintaining and repairing school computers to the provision of the infrastructure to make mobile services transparently available across the school campus.
Once the use of new technologies is ‘normalised’ and transparent in the school routine, the term ‘BYOT’ will disappear from our discussions – just as we don’t think too much these days about students bringing their own pencil-cases, calculators, or tennis balls to participate in school activities.
An iPad (or iPod or Chromebook or Laptop) will soon be just another gadget in the school satchel, used when required to participate in learning activities.
All of which provides much food for thought …..
- Does your school currently provide transparent network access for mobile devices across the campus?
- Does your network have the capacity to support multiple devices for each student and teacher?
- How would your classrooms change if every student had their own internet-connected device available when required?
- How might teaching programs change in such an environment?